Thursday, December 24, 2009

That's How I Believe

Here is a snippet from BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, by Evelyn Waugh. Charles Ryder, the atheist, and Sebastian Flyte, the Catholic, are discussing religion.

"Oh dear, it's very difficult being Catholic."

"Does it make much difference to you?"

"Of course. All the time."

"Well, I can't say I've noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don't seem much more virtuous than me."

"I'm very, very much wickeder," said Sebastion indignantly.

"Well then?"

"Who was it used to pray, 'Oh God, make me good, but not yet'?"

"I don't know. You, I should think."

"Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn't that." He turned to the pages of the News of the World and said, "Another naughty scout-master."

"I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?"

"Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me."

"But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all?"

"Can't I?"

"I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

"Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

"But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

"But I do. That's how I believe."

. . .

"Well," I said, "if you can believe all that and you don't want to be good, where's the difficulty of your religion?"

"If you can't see, you can't."

Sometimes I think that we get too wrapped up in trying to "prove" to an atheist's satisfaction the various tenets of our religion. We begin to think that our hope rests on whether our Creation story can overcome the evolutionist's dogma. We try to wrap up every loose end and explain every facet of the great story. We philosophize endlessly: Why was it necessary that Jesus be born of a virgin? How could he be sinless and human if all humans are born sinful? Did Jesus have a body before he was born or only afterward, and if only afterward then how can he say, "I, the Lord, do not change?" There are countless questions to ponder, countless arguments in which we can find ourselves trapped. And the answers that satisfy me may well not satisfy you.

Far be it from me to disparage the serious inquiry into all manner of questions regarding the great story. A large part of my life is involved in asking such questions. The questions matter and the answers we give matter very much! But sometimes we get so involved in the minutia of argumentation that we forget what drew us to the great story in the first place. Few of us first began to see the loveliness of the lovely Christ through a vigorous debate of the metaphysical understanding of how Jesus can be fully God and fully human at the same time. At some point we do need to wrestle with that question; at some point we do need to try to understand it; at some point we do need to fall down in front of it acknowledging that such a question is truly beyond our ability to comprehend. But that is probably not the first cause that drew our curiousity and our love to the great story, the story of the Bible, and the story of a bastard child born in a barnyard, born out of wedlock of vagrant parents, whose first bed was a trough from which donkeys and sheep were eating.

It is good sometimes to pause, in the midst of all our huge theological debates, in the midst of the Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox struggles, in the midst of our attempts to make Christianity logical to the scientific mind; it is good to pause and recall what first drew us to invest ourselves and our loves and our lives in this story. For most of us what first drew us was the story itself, not the debates. Most of us can, if we look back at the beginnings of the faith that has overturned our lives and our worlds, most of us can agree with Sebastian Flyte.

"Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea." "But I do. That's how I believe."

For most of us, in the beginning and in the end, it is the beauty of the story God is telling that inexorably pulls us into itself. It is the story's loveliness that disables our attempts to remain aloof. On this beautiful rainy Christmas eve I am going to re-read the various passages of the Christmas story in my Bible, trying to ask no questions of it but simply basking in the unparalleled loveliness of the story.


Don Sproles said...

I happened across this by accident. (are there any "accidents"?) On a day that my e-mail was full of "you can still get it by Christmas!" and "order now" and "make someone happy this Christmas" this was like a breath of fresh air. It took me a long time to read it o my wife as I had to regain my composure several times. The words touched me deeply. I have taken the liberty of copying them and sharing them with friends and family (giving proper credit of course) My thanks to you for making my Christmas more meaningful.

Essay said...
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Doug P. Baker said...

Hey Don,

If your email says "You can get it by Christmas", then I'd call that spam! Unless it means that you can drive to the store, buy it, and drive it home in time for Christmas.

I'm very honored that you found it moving! Please feel free to use anything you find of use!

May our Lord bless your Christmas and may he smile on your whole family!